A message from a friend at 2 am - bearing the news of Usman Ghouri’s death from a heart attack in Karachi on Saturday morning - arrived not so much as a wave of sorrow as one of utter disbelief and shock.
To hear of a man barely out of his 30s to have passed away so suddenly was horrific enough. To have studied under his tutelage for four years and shared professional and personal views on everything from art to politics and philosophy compels me to mourn more than just the loss of a gifted artist, curator, teacher and friend.
The accomplishments of Usman Ghouri — whose passion, dedication and struggle to succeed bore him to the top of the ladder in art — are known by many. Born in Sukkur, in the house of a government official, Ghouri allowed for no pretenses of having been born to any but the most modest of families. Driven by a desire to succeed from a young age, he enrolled and put himself through the National College of Arts, Lahore, from where he graduated with a Bachelors in Design in 1992. In 1996, he started teaching printmaking at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS), Karachi. He left for Australia to pursue a Master’s in Art from the University of New South Wales, Sydney and after graduating in 2000, returned to teach at the IVS.
From there on, it was pure determination and hard work that allowed Ghouri to not only become the head of the printmaking department at IVS but also the curator of the IVS Gallery and the Koel Gallery as well as carve out a niche for himself in the country’s most select art circles.
These, however, are the triumphs of the artist known by many. For the few of us who were privileged enough to have known him personally, Ghouri was a quirky man who believed in being inspired by the simplest of things, whether it be a block of wood, a string of jute or a song out of a Shahrukh Khan movie. You could find him as enthralled by trivia on the gossip in Bollywood as by the process of a mezzotint. He could just as easily laugh at a joke as at an anecdote of a zinc plate having dissolved in acid due to the forgetfulness of a student. He could at once advise you on the most foolproof way of guaranteeing editions of prints and where you were going wrong with the lull in your love life, finding time in the middle of all this to answer the continuous string of phone calls that demanded his presence everywhere all at once.
The artist Usman Ghouri deserves to be remembered for all his contributions to the field of art in general and his struggle for the endurance of printmaking in particular.
The person Usman Ghouri will be remembered for the contributions he made to society in general through his generosity and helpfulness, but in particular by those whose lives he helped shape, nurture and enrich with infinite wisdom, kindness and that great big laugh of his.
Rabia Ashfaque is a former sub-editor at The Express Tribune and is an artist who is currently volunteering at the American Museum of Natural History, New York.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2011.